RIAA Keeps Up Pressure On Music Swappers

It filed 532 "John Doe" suits against users it says have been distributing music via peer-to-peer networks.
Making good on a promise to continue its crackdown on illegal file-swapping even as music downloading appears to have been sliced in half, the Recording Industry Association of America on Wednesday filed 532 "John Doe" lawsuits against users it claims have been distributing music over peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa, Imesh, and Grokster. Because a recent federal appeals court decision prevents subpoenas citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act from being issued prior to the filing of lawsuits, defendants were identified only by their IP addresses pending subpoenas being issued to their ISPs.

The suits come about four months after the RIAA filed suit against 261 people it deemed to be egregious distributors of music over file-sharing networks, and just two weeks after a report indicated that illegal downloading of music may have dropped more 50% over the previous six months. That report, issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Web-tracking firm comScore Media Metrix, didn't distinguish between file-sharing networks and legitimate music-downloading sites, but the researchers attributed the bulk of the decline to the impact the RIAA's legal campaign has had on file-swapping activity.

The RIAA's actions also come as the music industry appears to have reversed the trend of shrinking sales that plagued it during the first half of the 2003. After posting year-to-year drop-offs for 34 of the year's first 36 weeks, weekly music sales eclipsed 2002 levels in 11 of 13 weeks between mid-September and early December, according to figures compiled by Nielsen SoundScan, a music-sales tracking company.

RIAA president Cary Sherman said in a statement that the latest suits should send a message that although file-sharing activity is on the decline and music sales appear to be rebounding, file-swappers shouldn't consider that an opportunity to fly under the industry's radar. "We can and will continue to bring lawsuits on a regular basis against those who illegally distribute copyrighted music," Sherman said. He also said the association would continue to offer defendants the chance to settle rather than face potential fines of up to $150,000 per copyright violation. Reports have indicated that most of those who've settled have paid between $2,500 and $7,500.

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